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History As It Happens

Aug 11, 2022

For decades neither side in the abortion debate had to test its position in the democratic arena. The Supreme Court in 1973 had settled it: the Constitution guaranteed a right to an abortion. But now, in post-Roe America, opponents of abortion rights must convince public majorities that the procedure must be severely restricted or banned entirely. In conservative Kansas, the pro-life movement was decisively defeated when nearly 60 percent voted to uphold abortion rights as enumerated in the state constitution. The conflict over abortion will likely take years to play out in legislative elections or public referenda. But one important aspect is already coming into focus. That is, now that the possibility of criminalizing abortions has moved out of the abstract, ambivalent Americans may recoil at laws aimed at imprisoning doctors, or fencing women into their home states by punishing them for traveling to where abortion is legal. In this episode, Georgetown historian Michael Kazin, an expert on American political and social movements, compares today’s conservative Christian movement to outlaw abortion to the temperance crusaders of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, armies of Christian evangelists who convinced a large majority of voters to outlaw booze in the Eighteenth Amendment. Prohibition, an attempt to enforce a strict moral code on millions of unwilling people, was a disaster.